Socratic Dialectic

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A friend of Socrates, Chaerephon, asked the Oracle of Delphi if there is anyone wiser than Socrates. The goddess answered that there is not. (Plato, p. 50). Aware that he cannot claim wisdom, but intrigued by the Oracle’s answer, Socrates embarks on a journey to find someone who is truly wise. The method he used to establish someone’s wisdom or lack of it has been known as the Socratic dialectic. Socrates’ dialectic technique, its aim and its method will be examined in this paper. The Apology of Socrates’ by Plato, will be used as a case study to illustrate key points. Upon hearing the Oracle’s answer that no one is wiser than him, Socrates found the literal interpretation difficult to comprehend. He decided to seek out people who have a reputation for wisdom in various regards and test their claims to knowledge through questioning. He discovers a good deal of vain ignorance and false claims to knowledge, but no one with genuine wisdom. As he always believed that he knew very little, he came to the conclusion that he was wise only in so far as that he knew nothing. Socratic method is a dialectic method of inquiry, in which elenchos (Greek: ἔλεγχος, a cross-examination) is the central technique ( Dialectic is a form of a dialogue which consists of two methods, analysis and synthesis. (Macquarie University, Lecture 4). Through analysis, Socrates would ask the person to state a claim they believed to be true. To investigate the validity of the claim, he would use a series of questions and answers. It was intended to reveal person’s beliefs and underlying assumptions about a particular topic and demonstrate their consistency or lack of it. Once the person’s contradictions have been exposed, the conclusion (synthesis) is that the original claim cannot be made since it does not correspond to evidence presented through the process of analysis. The good example of Socrates’ technique is illustrated in The Apology, Socrates’...
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